Tour Season at GRDA’s Pensacola Dam

GRDA’s historic Pensacola Dam … GRDA offers free tours of the dam – Oklahoma’s first hydroelectric facility – all summer long.

GRDA’s historic Pensacola Dam … GRDA offers free tours of the dam – Oklahoma’s first hydroelectric facility – all summer long.

Every year, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Grand River Dam Authority offers free tours of historic Pensacola Dam. Of course, it’s that time of year now, so what can you expect to see if you take the tour?

First of all, during an opening video presentation in the GRDA Ecosystems and Education Center (where free Pensacola dam tours originate) expect to learn more about the men and women who first envisioned and later constructed the dam. Depression-era labor built Pensacola at a time when electricity was still considered a luxury for many Oklahomans and the video contains a lot of facts and figures about those construction days, as well as black and white photos showing the men and women who donated blood, sweat and tears to turn the idea into a reality.

You can also expect to look out across from the top of the mile-long dam as it stretches from Langley to Disney, across the Grand River Valley. This is the southern end of Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees, a 46,500 surface-acre lake that attracts thousands and thousands of visitors every year. The dam was built at one of the widest parts of the river valley and, to say the least, the view is impressive at this point of the lake, where the waters are at their deepest and the concrete of the man-made dam meets the waters of the Grand.

Then, when you visit the powerhouse, you sort of step back in time. The art deco design is evident on the generator floor where Oklahoma’s oldest hydroelectric units (upgraded in the late 1990s) still play a vital role in power production for GRDA customers. Believe it or not, when the dam was being built, many critics felt it would produce more power than GRDA could ever market. Today, the low-cost, reliable electricity produced by Pensacola amounts to a small portion of GRDA’s overall production.

Walk outside the powerhouse and you have a good view of the dam’s impressive and colossal arches. There are 51 of them, stretching the length of river valley, holding back the waters that create Grand Lake and giving Pensacola Dam its unique look. That “look” along with the important role the dam has played in Northeast Oklahoma’s development since 1940, are key reasons Pensacola is listed on the National Register for Historic Places.

For more tour information, stop by the GRDA Ecosystems and Education Center in Langley. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the building will be open 9AM to 4PM. You can also visit us online at or email GRDA hopes you have a safe and enjoyable summer!


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